Gulf Coast prepares

BY RACHEL CLARK | ABILENE, TX | September 24, 2002

"Every time it rains here, people begin getting a bit anxious."

—Dorothy Thompson

As Tropical Storm Isidore drifted into the Gulf, U.S. Gulf Coast disaster response groups prepared for the storm.

"Isidore is far from dead ... and still is forecast to drift back out over the Gulf of Mexico and re-strengthen," said Tom Hazelwood of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. "It could, in fact, power back up into a strong hurricane as it begins to move northward."

Hazelwood said Isidore remains a substantial threat to Gulf Coast states.

"Residents of those areas are urged to continue with their hurricane preparations in anticipation of Isidore's approach later this week," he said. "A landfall in the Thursday/Friday timeframe remains a good bet. In the meantime, heavy surf, in the 10- to 15-foot range, lurks just offshore from the lower Texas coast.

"And heavy rains, in the vicinity of a stalled out front, are likely across north Florida and the central and eastern Gulf Coast --especially the Florida Panhandle -- tomorrow."

Coastal communities along Texas are preparing to evacuate.

"It looks like Wednesday at 6 a.m. weíll begin evacuating unless the storm makes a different turn," said Captain Dan Ford, president of Texas VOAD and Commanding Officer of Salvation Army of Beaumont. "Right now itís coming north, northeast, if it goes further northeast then our evacuation may be rescinded."

Tuesday morning, a tropical storm warning remained in effect along the Gulf Coast of Mexico from Cabo Catoche to Veracruz. According to the National Weather service, parts of the northern Gulf Coast of Mexico will likely be put on a hurricane watch later in the day.

Isidore inflicted coastal flooding of 4 to 6 feet above normal tide level and battering waves along the Yucatan Peninsula this weekend. While over land, Isidore has weakened, but when over warm Gulf waters, the storm is expected to strengthen significantly. Forecasters expect the storm to head north-northwest in the next 24 hours. That means Isidore could nail Gulf Coast states with high winds and sheets of rain.

"Really, there hasnít been anything that has hit the Gulf Coast here in Texas since the storm that hit Galveston in early 1900," said Ford. "People are worried; they know from Tropical Storm Fay just coming through what it can do and what it can look like Ė especially if itís a hurricane when it gets here."

In central Louisiana, outer rain bands moving north are expected to cause isolated showers. Residents of some coastal towns are boarding up their homes and leaving before the storm hits. Parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are under coastal watches.

Terrebonne Emergency Preparedness Director Mike Deroche said emergency personnel are watching the storm closely, and that residents should prepare for Isidore's likely arrival.

"Near the coast we're taking the usual precautions," said the Rev. Alan Coe of the Cross United Church of Christ in Texas. "We're in kind of a 'wait and see' pattern."

Coe lives east of San Antonio. More rain, he said, would hurt an already flood-soaked region.

"The ground is pretty well saturated," he said. "And people are still out of their homes and rebuilding, so they don't need to see a hurricane."

Dorothy Thompson, administrative coordinator for the Taylor-Jones County Disaster Recovery Initiative, has spent the past months helping Texans near Abilene recover from July flooding. She said residents are too busy trying to rebuild their homes from the last storm to notice Isidore.

"As far as Isidore, I think that if the storm comes across the Gulf with any force, people are going to begin to become alarmed," she said. "It was a tropical system -- that's what happened to us in July -- that came and just hovered a few hours above us. If Isidore comes ashore and it's pretty strong, then I imagine people will pay attention to that."

The Division of Emergency Management in Texas has activated a Level II (Escalated Response) Emergency Condition. A flood watch along the Texas coast, from Cameron County north to Calhoun County, has been issued. A coastal flood watch means that flooding is possible within the next 12 to 36 hours. The state is expected to upgrade the watch to a warning -- which means that flooding is imminent -- sometime Tuesday.

"Ongoing preparations are in progress to verify evacuation routes and shelter locations across all areas of Texas essentially south and southeast of I-35 from Dallas to Laredo," said Jack Colley, state coordinator.

The State Emergency Operations Center is expected to raise the Emergency Condition Level to I on Tuesday. A Level I activation is when the state is in an emergency condition.

On Thursday, the American Red Cross mobilized supplies in southern states. A hurricane watch team in Florida was activated and other state watches are on standby.

"Storms tend to stall when they hit the Gulf of Mexico because of the warmer water and there they intensify," explained Amanda Gordon-Jiminez, damage assessment associate with the Red Cross. "That means Isidore could potentially hit the United States as a stronger hurricane."

Thompson said Abilene residents are hoping for the best.

"Every time it rains here, people begin getting a bit anxious," she said. "But right now, they're so busy rebuilding that they haven't made much preparation."

Meanwhile, two new tropical depressions have become storms. Tropical Storm Lili is headed West across the Caribbean. With winds at 60 mph, Lili is expected to gain strength. Tuesday morning, tropical storm warnings were in effect for the Lesser Antilles from St. Lucia to Grenada.

"The island of Barbados was being pounded early this afternoon by heavy rain and wind gusts to 75 mph," Hazelwood said. "Lili will continue to swirl toward the west-northwest on its way into the eastern Caribbean Sea where it eventually could intensify into a hurricane."

East of Bermuda, Tropical Storm Kyle was strengthening as it headed southwest with 50 mph winds Tuesday morning.

National Weather Service forecasters said Kyle is a little more aggressive a storm than initially thought, and that Kyle may grow into a hurricane in about 48 hours.

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Related Links:

Texas Emergency Management

Taylor-Jones County Disaster Recovery Initiative

Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness


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